The Russian successes during the war gave the openings to Communist parties loyal to the Soviet Union to increase their influence throughout Europe. The two countries which were exceptions to the rule were Greece, where the Communists were checked by British intervention in December 1944, and Yugoslavia, where Tito took a strongly independent line. In the rest of Eastern Europe local Communists came to power backed by the might of the Russian armies. Informer Axis satellites like Rumania, Bulgaria and Hungary, Communist regimes could simply be imposed on the native populations but in the cases of Poland and Czechoslovakia a more delicate approach was required. Polish Communists were particularly dependent on Russian help because of the traditional Polish hostility to Russia. recently increased by the Russian refusal to help the Warsaw rising. In Czechoslovakia, the Communists moved cautiously, taking part in Bend’ People’s Front government and gaining control of crucial ministries.
In each of the European countries, the Communists had to overcome opposition which was centred in the peasant parties and the Christian Churches. This task was made more difficult by the conduct, or rather misconduct, of the Russian troops. In Poland, Mikolajczyk and the People’s Party came under increasing pressure and, in fear for his life, the leader was forced to escape abroad. In Czechoslovakia, free elections were held in 1946 in which the Communists gained 38 per cent of the vote; it was only in 1948 that the Communists proceeded to more extreme measures. The only non-Communist minister, Jan Masaryk, son of the founder of the republic, died after falling from a window in most dubiotis circumstances, and Bend resigned as President in June.
With the political opposition crushed, the new Communist regimes felt able to implement a social revolution by collectivising agriculture and nationalising industry. For a time they had broken up large estates for the benefit of the peasantry, whose cooperation they needed. Now the trend was reversed and it must be assumed that it was against the wishes of the majority of the population. Where the East European countries did learn from the Russian experience was in their slower pace of economic changes, which avoided any repetition of the massacres in Russia in the 1930s. As a result, by no means all farming was collectivised in East Europe even by the mid 1950s.
In Yugoslavia, Tito continued his defiant and independent attitude which angered Stalin. The Russian leader continued to hope that Yugoslav Communists would depose Tito so that Yugoslavia could be brought into line with other satellites. He made a grave error in failing to appreciate Tito’s strong grip on his counz,: The Yugoslav leader was capable of acting ruthlessly, and had quickly eliminated non-Communists like General Mihailovic, who was executed in July 1946. But Tito’s position in the Yugoslav Communist Party was unrivalled because of his part in the epic wartime resistance. Therefore the denunciation of the Yugoslav leader by the Cominform (the revived Comintern) and by Pravda that he was guilty of failing to implement Communist programmes had no success whatever. The criticism was in any case untrue. Tito collectivised agriculture in Yugoslavia more rapidly than did leaders in other East European countries and only after his quarrel with Stalin did he become relatively moderate and liberal. In 1951, Tito accepted aid from the West and since then has tried to institute a decentralised Communism with a human face. At the time of writing, Tito still ruled Yugoslavia. I-Ic has been ruthless in suppressing Croatian nationalism but has followed relatively liberal economic policies. He has repeatedly stated his determination that Yugoslavia should be socialist yet non-aligned, a clear warning to Russia against any interference in Yugoslav affairs.
Tito’s defiance of Stalin made the Russian more determined to complete his stranglehold over other East European countries, and purges of party members occurred in all the satellites. The Church came in for attack, the most notorious case being the treatment of Cardinal Mindszenty of Hungary, who was arrested and tortured. In East Germany, Waither Ulbricht became the key man in Stalin’s plans. An energetic organiser, his loyalty to Russia was never in doubt. Having harassed other political parties out of existence, Ulbricht’s Communists launched a major programme of economic change. The repression of the régime, combined with Russian economic exactions, made it loathed by the people of East Germany.
Many voted with their feet by fleeing to the West and in just over a decade the population of East Germany fell from 19 to 17 million. The drain of manpower, much of it young and skilled, was a further burden on the country’s economy. In 1949, East Germany was formally proclaimed as the German Der1cvratic Republic. The rulers of East Germany hoped to make their country comparable or indeed superior to the Federal Republic but they failed in this objective, the building of the Berlin Wall in 1961 being a tacit admission of their failure.
In Asia, as in Europe, the Communists had achieved a prominent position in resistance movements during the war. At the end of the war they were able to take power in China, North Vietnam and North Korea, with the important difference that apart from North Korea they were not installed by Russian troops. The Chinese Communists did, however, receive much aid from Russia at a time when the United States withheld arms from their Kuomintang rivals. In 1950 the new Chinese leader, Mao Tse-tung, visited Moscow and signed a Sino—Soviet treaty by which the two countries became allies, Russia promising to supply industrial equipment to China. Relations at this point were still cordial as China depended on Russian aid but already China had indicated her intention to be treated as the equal of the Soviet Union rather than her satellite.
The Cominform now became the spearhead of a Communist offensive in Asia and it planned several armed risings in that continent from 1948. In India, the Philippines, Burma, Malaya and Indonesia, Communist risings were checked. In Indo-China, Ho Chi Minh’s Communists defeated the French and won control of Northern Indo-China. The high point of the Communist offensive was in Korea, where in June 1950 North Korea launched an attack on South Korea. When United Nations forces had driven back the North Koreans. Chinese volunteers’ joined in to help the Communist cause. Though the Korean war ended in stalemate, the prestige of Russia and China was enormous in the I 950s and the war had proved that American troops were not invincible.
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